Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter

Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter: Monday, June 3, 2013

Center Happenings

Summer 2013 Student Interns

Please join the Center in welcoming the many students we will be working with in the summer of 2013 to research poverty and related issues, generate awareness of poverty, and train a new generation to combat the causes and effects of poverty! UNC Law students we will be working with this summer include: Whitley Carpenter, Teresa Cook, Brittany Croom, William Dickey, Brent Ducharme, Jason Jones, Sharon Lin, Howard Lintz, and Alison Templeton. Also, UNC Law students Kat Gardzalla, David Harper, and Stephanie Mellini will be conducting research on mortgage foreclosure. Deshawna Kiker of Wake Forest University will also join us as an undergraduate intern through the Z. Smith Reynolds Nonprofit Internship Program. Welcome!

Director Nichol receives the Faith Active in Public Life Award from the NC Council of Churches

On April 11, 2013, Center Director Gene Nichol received the Faith Active in Public Life Award from the North Carolina Council of Churches for his "courageous, dedicated, humane and compassionate witness in the political arena."  Listen to the luncheon address Nichol delivered to a crowd of 200 social justice advocates upon acceptance of the award.

Upcoming Events

Special Screening of American Winter

Tuesday, June 4, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Motorco, 723 Rigsbee Avenue, Durham

Join the NC Justice Center and the People's Alliance for a screening of the film "American Winter," an intimate and emotionally evocative snapshot of the state of the economy as it is playing out in many American families, directed by Emmy award-winning filmmakers Joe and Harry Gantz (Taxicab Confessions, The Defenders).

Filmed over the course of one winter in Portland, Oregon, the documentary puts a face on the country's economic challenges, and highlights the human impact of budget cuts to social services, a shrinking middle class, and the fracturing of the American Dream. The experiences of the families in American Winter are a vivid illustration of what has been happening to families across America, and right here in North Carolina.

This event is hosted by the North Carolina Justice Center, the state's preeminent voice for economic, social and political justice, and the Durham People's Alliance, a local citizen organization committed to social and economic justice, quality public education, a healthy environment, people-friendly economic development, safe neighborhoods, and affordable housing.

The screening will be followed by a brief panel discussion about the state of economic mobility and opportunity in North Carolina, the current attacks on the safety net, and ways to get involved. Center Director Gene Nichol will participate in the panel discussion.

A $10 donation to the host organizations is suggested.

Center Publications

This year, Director Gene Nichol will write a monthly column, Seeing the Invisible, about poverty in North Carolina to be published in the News & Observer on the last Sunday of each month.

We hope you will join us in this examination of the faces and issues of poverty in our state. See the recent articles below.

Shocking burden of $800 light bills

News & Observer, March 30, 2013

The poorest citizens in the poorest communities in North Carolina often pay the highest rates for electricity. They are required, in the process, to subsidize the services of others much wealthier than themselves. They also, in some instances, are taxed by municipalities in which they can neither vote nor run for office. The burden of crushing electricity prices thwarts economic development in much of Eastern North Carolina, the state's poorest region.

The most pervasive and surprising anxiety expressed during the Poverty Tour across North Carolina, undertaken last year by the NAACP, arose from the impact that extraordinary electric bills have in some Eastern North Carolina cities. Hundreds of residents complained of bills that exceeded, sometimes significantly, their mortgages or rent - leading to stunning hardship, power shut-offs, home abandonments, failed businesses and foreclosures.

Read the full article.

Full of courage, smarts, yet facing empty future

News & Observer, April 27, 2013

Each year, thousands of undocumented North Carolina immigrants are effectively excluded from our higher education system. In the process, they're relegated to a regime of low-wage jobs and an expanding circle of poverty. As a result, colleges and universities abandon a central, empowering core of their missions. And the state forgoes much-needed potential economic contribution. We lose all the way round. What follows is one example.

Marco Cervantes is 19. His family came to the United States when he was a baby. He has lived in and around Carrboro since he was 2. He has five siblings. His youngest brother, born at UNC Hospitals, is a U.S. citizen. Marco and the rest of his family are undocumented.

Read the full article.

Digging into NC districts, desperation easy to find

News & Observer, May 25, 2013

Last year, almost famously, Rep. George Cleveland of Onslow County stated in a committee hearing that "there is no extreme poverty in North Carolina." Cleveland challenged the U.S. Census Bureau's findings of intense and growing poverty in our state. Such conclusions, he asserted, are "just government agency efforts to perpetuate what they want as a poverty level." They keep redefining poverty to make sure we have a poverty class. There's no real deprivation in North Carolina. We might say governmentally that people are poor, he concluded, but they're not. I hope Cleveland is an outlier in claiming that the federal extreme poverty standard, about $7 per person a day, is dramatically too generous. I doubt many legislators believe we ought to be well-satisfied if our poverty levels don't dramatically exceed those of Haiti or Sierra Leone.

Read the full article.

Research at the Center

Student Research

Currently, the Center is hosting summer interns who are conducting research for future articles of the News & Observer series, Seeing the Invisible. Students are also assisting with other ongoing projects including a report on the economic impact of free legal services in North Carolina and a review of state legislation passed in 2013 that impacts low-income individuals.

Mortgage Foreclosure Research

With the help of a couple of terrific research assistants and our amazing organizational partners, the Foreclosure Project has embarked on its searching review of foreclosure files in North Carolina. We will collect a rich array of details that will reveal trends and practices and enrich our understanding of foreclosure in the state. Additionally, we hope to study the difference representation makes in the outcome of foreclosure hearings: does having a lawyer increase a homeowner's chances of keeping her home to a significant degree? Stay tuned!

Center in the News

Legal System Leaving Behind the Poor, Makes a Mockery of Equality, UNC Law Professor Tells Harvard Gathering

American Constitution Society Blog, April 11, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court that issued the opinion in Gideon v. Wainwright finding that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to counsel even if they cannot pay for it was a high court unwavering in its efforts to ensure that equal protection under the law applied even to the powerless and marginalized.

Today's Supreme Court, said UNC Law School Professor Gene Nichol at a recent symposium at Harvard Law School, is very different and in many respects reflects the nation's treatment broadly of people in poverty. The present high court's proclivity, Nichol said, is to intervene as the "sword-carrier, and lieutenant and hand-maiden, and aide-de-camp of the powerful and economically privileged."

Nichol, speaking at a symposium on Gideon and on the need to extend more legal services to civil litigants hosted by the Harvard Law and Policy Review and ACS, gave a broad and damning assessment of the way the legal system separates the poor from everyone else.

Read the full article.


Understanding Joblessness in North Carolina

A recently released issue brief from the Economic Policy Institute tackles the disparities in unemployment trends between white, African American, and Hispanic North Carolinians. The state's overall unemployment picture has been slowly improving in recovery from the recession, at a rate of 9.2% statewide unemployment based on fourth quarter of 2012 Current Population Survey data. However, the study reports the unemployment rate of African Americans in North Carolina is 17.3%, more than two and a half times that of whites. The African American unemployment rate has not enjoyed the declines in unemployment other groups have experienced, making the unemployment rate of African Americans in North Carolina the fourth-highest of the 24 states tracked by the study (those with large enough African American populations to track with quarterly CPS data).

ABCs of SNAP in North Carolina

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities produced state by state fact sheets about SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly described as food stamps. As the North Carolina fact sheet indicates, 18% of North Carolinians receive SNAP benefits, and almost half of SNAP participants in NC are children. SNAP reaches 78% of the individuals who are eligible. 81% of SNAP participants in NC have income below the poverty line, and 45% have income below 50% of the poverty line. SNAP participants are necessary to prevent food insecurity. Further, according to the USDA, if calculated in official measures of income, SNAP benefits would lift many Americans out of poverty, provided a much needed safety net to ensure families have food on the table.

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